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Interview with Zev Egli, Director of Operations at Harem Premium Cannabis

TAGS: Cannabis, Interview, Operations

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This interview features Zev Egli, the Director of Operations of Harem Premium CannabisZev’s experience in the industry ranges from cultivation at Harem Premium, to his time as a budtender on the front lines of retail for New Leaf Midtown, Harem’s primary retailer. A former college baseball player turned grower, he has been hands-on in the Oregon Cannabis Industry since his college days.  

 

Zev saw the potential of legal cannabis in Oregon early. Taking the initiative, he jumped ship in 2011 when he changed his focus from Criminal Justice to Business Administration to stay ahead of the game in what is now a multi-billion dollar industry. He is, in his own words, “invested and focused on seeing the industry enter large-scale worldwide commerce.” 

 

Read the interview

 

Join us as Zev shares his insights, reflecting on changes in the cannabis industry, rapidly shifting regulations, the dreaded 280 E, his business philosophy, and the role tech plays in both cultivation and business management.  

 

Set Yourself Up for Success

 

You studied business administration and management, so you could have chosen to pursue a career in business in any industry. What attracted you to the cannabis space? 

 

Understanding how a market works is the key to success in any industry, and I wouldn’t say that I found the cannabis industry so much as it found me. It was my early exposure to cultivation in college that motivated me to pursue a degree that gave me a deeper understanding of how business works. 

 

The cannabis space is what pushed me to study Business Administration and Management. In my freshman year at college, I was studying Criminal Justice when I was introduced to growing medical marijuana. I enjoyed the technical skill of growing, but I felt that having some business knowledge was ultimately what was going to help me succeed in the industry. 

 

Bypassing Roadblocks — Changing Attitudes

 

What roadblocks did you face when you first started cultivating cannabis? 

 

There have been no shortage of roadblocks, but one of the main things the industry has had to overcome is the taboos and misinformation that have grown up around the cultivation and use of cannabis. You know, problems with the public and official perception of marijuana and a general unwillingness to accept it’s medical and therapeutic benefits.

 

So, it was a challenge just staying steadfast in my conviction to pursue a career in the space. When I started growing and being around the plant in 2011, cannabis still felt very much like it was on the fringes of society. 

 

I was fresh out of high school and playing college baseball when I started helping in a garden. Even my parents were a little concerned about my life decisions. Although I was in the Oregon medical system and fully legal, it still felt like you weren’t supposed to be doing it.


That is changing, but we still aren’t all the way there. 

 

The regulations for the cannabis industry are constantly shifting and adapting across the US, what was the biggest change in regulations that you’ve seen and how did it affect your business? 

 

Heavy scrutiny and delayed timelines are right at the top of that list. Oregon is constantly changing, adapting and evolving its regulation, but I would say it’s been moving in the right direction. The time it took to get licensed was a big hurdle in our industry, causing many businesses to have to carry tons of overhead without being operational. 

 

In the last year, they have streamlined the application and licensing process, specifically for applicants who already hold licenses. Compliance is a central focus in any industry, but cannabis is under a microscope. Having resources and personnel dedicated to staying compliant is an industry best practice. 

 

The 280 E Conundrum

 

The biggest obstacle to our industry right now is the 280E Tax code that bottlenecks cannabis businesses and the great people that operate the industry. Due to a disconnect between state legalization and federal law, cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance. 

 

In short, at the federal level, due to anti-drug legislation from the Regan-era war on drugs, anyone cultivating or retailing cannabis is technically a drug trafficker. The result is that legitimate operators in the cannabis space are not able to deduct genuine business expenses come tax time. 

 

I hope federal legalization is on the horizon and the 280E tax code is renounced and cannabis is rescheduled, so the industry can really flourish. 

 

What was the greatest operational challenge that your company faced in 2020? 

 

Of course, like most businesses, not knowing how COVID 19 would affect us, or how it would be handled, made the year’s operational decisions a little more difficult. 

 

That said, we were fortunate not to be affected too much by 2020. We were able to scale our production and are preparing to scale further this year. Ultimately, we stayed steadfast in our execution and knew we could be dynamic if we had to. 

 

Advocating Quality, Attainability and Scalability

 

What actions have you taken to advocate for the growth and expansion of the cannabis industry? 

 

We have always valued the medicinal aspect of the plant, so we wanted to bring that mentality into the recreational market. 

 

What we focus on is producing clean and healthy cultivated products with businesses that share our ideas about the plant. We also think that giving back to our veteran, medical, and seniors community is important. We achieve that by making our product and price points as accessible as possible and hope to continue to scale those ideals with our company. 

 

We also think that giving back to our veteran, medical, and seniors community is important. We achieve that by making our product and price points as accessible as possible and hope to continue to scale those ideals with our company. 

 

The Keys to Success

 

What technology would like to implement to help increase operational efficiency? 

 

I believe that the more information and data you can have about your business, the more efficiently you can operate. The more facts you have, the better decisions you make. 

 

With that in mind, especially when it comes to cultivation, implementing more automation and sensors that talk to and retain your data in a central location is the technology I want to focus on. I also believe that staying on top of your operational cost is extremely important — especially if you want to operate and scale a successful business. Information and Technology make that possible. 

 

The better the technology you have on the finance side of your operation is, the more headaches you alleviate. Harnessing the information you already have at your fingertips lets you make the best possible decisions for your company.

 

If you had all the resources you could ask for, what is one strategy or solution that you wish you could implement to better grow your business?

 

My answer here is the same. I would focus on data and information technology. There is something to be said about someone that has good instincts and feel, but if you can give that person hard data, it empowers them as an asset. It doesn’t matter if the information is focused on Human Resources or cultivation, it’s all good. 

 

With the cannabis space becoming increasingly saturated, what are you doing to make your company and brand stand out? 

 

In this industry, more than most, you get out what you put in. What sets us apart from other brands is how we harvest and cure our cannabis. For example, we cure our cannabis flower slowly to get rid of all the chlorophyll and off-gas while achieving optimal moisture activity. This way, we ensure that the consumer is going to have the best experience possible when they purchase our product. 

 

Although this almost doubles the time it takes to get our product to market, we don’t waver in our belief because the result is a superior customer experience. 

 

To maintain the quality of that customer experience, we demand the little things get done perfectly. Things like trimming, watering, and manicuring. We focus on intention and care in our work. By doing this consistently over a long period of time, our effort compounds like interest that gets paid back in the highest-quality production and output dividends to our company and customers. 

 

As an operations leader in the cannabis space, what advice do you have for someone who is interested in taking on an operations role in your industry? 

 

My advice to someone that wants to take on an operational management role in the cannabis space is to read, watch, and listen to everything you possibly can — all day, every day. Never stop soaking in information. 

 

Become a jack-of-all-trades for the industry. You should understand cultivation on a deep level so you can effectively communicate with your director of cultivation or growers. You should understand bookkeeping and finance. You should read and listen to everything you can on being an effective leader. 

 

Ultimately, by knowing a little about a lot, you become an unbelievably valuable tool for your company. Once you can be effective in many different roles, then you can see the bigger picture across your operation. From there, you can solve problems by making better decisions quickly. 

 

My advice to someone that wants to take on an operational management role in the cannabis space is to read, watch, and listen to everything you possibly can — all day, every day. Never stop soaking in information. 

 

Last Words

 

What is your favorite operations/business-related book? 

 

This is my favorite question as an avid reader, so I’ll give you more than one. My favorite book for business is Built to Sell by John Warrillow. I like this book because it reads like a  parable and it highlights what you should be thinking about while you start and build your business. 

 

Another book I really have leaned on is the High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil. This book is based on a series of interviews with many of the best tech start-up gurus of our time. It covers a lot of the deeper things that we should consider while building our companies, from how to build a culture, to how to allocate resources effectively. I love it. 

 

The last book I’d recommend is one that is fresh in my mind. It is The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, also a collection of parables. It distills the self-help business model into 5 laws that are practical and seem to work.

 

Do you have a personal motto that you live by? 

 

In order to stay ahead of the game you need to be confident, make your own opportunities, use every resource at your disposal, and, especially in the cannabis industry,  always provide more value than you expect in payment.

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